Teacher pay, job satisfaction and the politics of public education

legislatureThe Round Rev and his rabble regularly showed up at The Legislative Building in Raleigh over the last year demanding that education spending and teacher pay be elevated to at least match “the national average.” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and other Republican leaders have hinted that teacher pay will be a significant issue in the legislative session that opens in May.

Maestro Don Carrington of The John Locke Foundation has a great read in the January 2014 print edition of Carolina Journal.  His thesis?:

Education leaders and some politicians have for years urged that pay for educators in North Carolina be at “the national average,” a goal used for no other employment sector in the state as a metric to gauge the appropriateness of pay. […]

Leaders who champion paying teachers at the national average of their professions make no mention of the private sector, in which forces and costs of living in the various states largely determine differences in prices, pay, and living costs across state borders.  This explains why renting an apartment in Raleigh or Charlotte costs less than renting one in New York or Chicago.”

Carrington traces the origins of the “national average” argument back to Jim Hunt’s 1996 gubernatorial reelection campaign.  NCAE reps huddled with the Democrat governor and urged him to push for teacher pay in North Carolina closer to the national average.  Hunt was sold on the idea. He took off with it, and here we are.

Carrington and his CJ team used Bureau of Labor Statistics figures to make some salary comparisons.  Employees at North Carolina state university campuses are paid at 106.1 percent of the national average for state university employees. Total private sector pay in North Carolina is at 90 percent of the national average for private sector salaries.  K-12 public school employees in North Carolina are paid at 85.1 percent of the national average for K-12 public school employees.

Carrington elaborates:

“The BLS figures show the education sector has fallen behind the private sector in recent years, but not by much. If educators’ paychecks had averaged only 2.8 percent higher, or $990 in 2012, their salaries would have been in line with the state’s private sector workers. The total cost to taxpayers would have been $207 million. […]

If someone were to set a goal of raising North Carolina’s average private sector pay ($43,040) to the national average ($49,200) it would take an additional $19.9 billion in pay to bring the state’s 3.2 million private sector employees up to that level.

Before you get too excited about the 2.8 percent and $207 million route, consider this:  North Carolina is still dealing with a $3 billion-plus debt to the federal government for unemployment insurance, and is looking at a Medicaid system set to explode in red ink. 

Yet, our legislators passed a budget that spends $400 million more than the last one of the Bev Perdue era.  JLF also busted the Jones Street crowd for spending unprecedented amounts outside of the general fund.

Cutting out some of that spending and moving it over to teacher pay might solve the problem.  But where are we going to find that kind of courage in Raleigh during an election year? 

Educrats pushed the argument that teacher pay was causing job dissatisfaction and sending North Carolina teachers packing.  (Actually, most job vacancies in schools were caused by teachers leaving one NC system for another.) 

I asked a friend of mine — currently teaching in a North Carolina elementary school — for her take on all of this:

“If the administrators would let us TEACH, it would be great.  I spend nearly as much time doing administrative stuff each day — filling out forms, collecting money — as I do actually teaching.

Oh, and the testing.  I am supposed to be preparing these kids to ace these tests.  But every day, you have these consultants and central office types pulling kids out of my class.  Last week, I had three kids who kept showing up to my class late.  I checked up on this.  They were being pulled out of my class for reading clinics and math clinics and other kinds of experimental things.  They didn’t bother to tell me.

This is happening to other teachers too.  We’re going to be held accountable over these test results.  How can I be expected to get these kids up to speed on this information when they are constantly being pulled out of my class for this extraneous stuff?”